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17 November 2011

Rebirth or Last Will and Testament of the Church?

I've not forgotten about part 3 of "A Crash Course in Hermeneutics". It will be posted soon.

Before my long-time friend Christy Ellis sent the text of this document to me, I'd never heard of "The Last Will and Testament of Springfield Presbytery," which first appeared in The Herald of Gospel Liberty in 1803 (Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 2-3). As I began to read it, it unfolded in such a way that I realized that the authors were as nutty as I am. Do I agree with all of it? No, but see if you can tell what they're getting at:

"The Presbytery of Springfield, sitting at Caneridge, in the county of Bourbon, being through a gracious Providence, in more than ordinary bodily health, growing in strength and size daily, and in perfect soundness and composure of mind; but knowing that it is appointed for all delegated bodies once to die and considering that the life of every such body is very uncertain, do make and ordain this our Last Will and Testament, in manner and form following, viz:

"Imprimis. We will that this body die, be dissolved, and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large: for there is but one body and one spirit, even as we are called in one hope of our calling.

"Item. We will, that our name of distinction, with its Reverend title, be forgotten, that there be but one Lord over God's heritage, and his name one.

"Item. We will, that our power of making laws for the government of the church, and executing them by delegated authority, forever cease; that, the people may have free course to the Bible, and adopt the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus.

"Item. We will, that candidates for the Gospel ministry henceforth study the holy scriptures with fervent prayer, and obtain license from God to preach the simple Gospel with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, without any mixture of philosophy, vain deceit, [2] traditions of men, the rudiments of the world. And let none henceforth take this honor to himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.

"Item. We will, that the church of Christ assume her native right of internal government--try her candidates for the ministry, as to their soundness in the faith, acquaintance with experimental religion, gravity and aptness to teach; and admit no other proof of their authority, but Christ speaking in them. We will that the church of Christ look up to the Lord of the harvest to send forth labourers into his harvest; and that she resume her primitive right of trying those who say they are Apostles, and are not.

"Item. We will, that each particular church, as a body, actuated by the same spirit, choose her own preacher, and support him by a free will offering without written call or subscription--admit members--remove offences; and never henceforth delegate her right of government to any man or set of men whatever.

"Item. We will, that the people henceforth take the Bible as the only sure guide to heaven; and as many as are offended with other books, which stand in competition with it, may cast them into the fire if they choose: for it is better to enter into life having one book, than having many to be cast into hell.

"Item. We will, that preachers and people, cultivate a spirit of mutual forbearance, pray more and dispute less; and while they behold the signs of the times, look up and confidently expect that redemption draweth nigh."

There is more. You can read the complete text here.

It's worth noting that not everyone in the church took too well to this document, which was officially signed/witnessed by six men I assume were elders. Some apparently felt coerced into agreeing to it, or maybe they just felt embarrassed later and tried to save face by maligning the man who brought the document to the church body.

Three years later one of the men wrote this in a document called (wait for it...) "A Brief Historical Account of Sundry Things in the Doctrines and State of the Christian, or as it is Commonly Called The Newlight Church":

"When we first existed as a church, we had the Presbyterial form of government. But Richard M'Nemar, that eccentric genius, who was then believed by most of us to possess a high degree of piety, power, and great light in religion, took it into his head that our existence in a formal body, as a Presbytery, was contrary to scripture--that our bond of union was a carnal bond--that we ought to be united by no bond but Christian love--and that this delegated body stood full in the way of Christ, and the progress of the revival; which revival would run like fire in dry stubble, if our Presbytery was out of the way. With these enchanting views, and others as visionary and vain, he prepared a piece at home, and brought it to the last meeting of our Presbytery held at Caneridge, Bourbon County, Kentucky, June, 1804, entitled, "The Last Will and Testament of Springfield Presbytery." None of us had the least thought of such a thing when we came to that meeting; and when it was proposed, we had many objections against dissolving our Presbytery. But, after being together several days, those enthusiastic fancies so far gained the ascendency over our judgment, that we consented to subscribe the obnoxious instrument."

It was disappointing to me to read that last gentleman's statement. Sort of reminded me of Obstinate and Pliable turning back from their walk with Christian in "The Pilgrim's Progress" (link goes to a FREE Kindle download of the classic book at after one encounter with trouble. Eventually Pliable listened to people who told him how stupid he'd been to begin the journey toward the Celestial City, so he joined in with those who were ridiculing Christian.

This same situation is reflected today in what has become a mass exodus from the culturally-understood model of "church." (I would call it "traditional," but in actuality today's Church does not build on the original tradition or practice of the early church.)

What are your thoughts? Is this kind of "movement" -- then or now -- a good thing, or is it an action and mindset that is destructive to the Church?

All bold emphases in quoted text above are mine.


Anonymous said...

Well for me iv'e had enough with the so called "church".
Im a christian, and im ashamed to admit it to others.
Christians have become hypocrits, judgemental, and worst of all.
They argue and fight, but never stand up for God. I dont see this in the Catholic church..In my opinion, those who go to a church 90 percent or more. Are translating the bible to the way it fits there lifestyle. So im converting. So called christians have caused me more problems than the thug on the street who isnt saved. And those who say church will never be perfect...Thats a excuse and a copout...I pray these people wake up soon...Destroy my worship, Unforgiveable....and time to move on........those who destroyed my family an worship....they still hide an call themselves christians...I'm completely done with them all.....last post from me in this blog.......too painful to read anymore

Christy said...

Great post! I'm glad I didn't do it, because it would not have been written nearly as well. I also appreciate how you looked deeper into and found out about the "brief" renunciation. I found that disappointing as well. The comparison to Obstinate and Pliable was really good, btw.

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